Updated: Aug 10, 2019
What advice to give to our African brothers and sisters about life in the U.S.? For some of us living abroad, this question comes up often. Sometimes, it sounds to me that people are looking for a magic formula to prosper quickly - without any pain and sufferings. Maybe there is a magic formula, but I have yet found it.
In 2009, I was energized by Alicia Key’s hook on Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind. To further understand the song, I discovered Frank Sinatra’s 1977 version called New York, New York. I intentionally pulled out some lines and replaced few words like New York with The States and city with country as followed:
I’m leaving today
I want to be a part of it
I wanna wake up in a [country] that doesn’t sleep
And find I’m [queen] of the hill, top of the heap
I wanna wake up in a [country] that doesn’t sleep
And find I’m a number one, top of the list
I’ll make a brand new start…in Old [States]
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to [me]…
With lyrics like those; diffusing so much hope and promises for a great life, who would not dream of moving to the States?
Back to Empire State of Mind, I applied the same technique; isolating the most intriguing parts to me:
For foreigners it ain’t for, they act like they forgot how to act
…The sidelines is
lined up with casualties, who sip to life casually
Then gradually become worse, don’t bite the
Caught up in the in-crowd…
[country] of sin, it’s a pity on a whim
Good girls gone bad, the [country]’s filled with them
Jesus can’t save you, life starts when the
Came here for school, graduated to the high life
…addicted to the limelight
The [country] never sleeps, better slip you an Ambien
Street lights, big dreams, all lookin’ pretty
Jay-Z’s descriptive rap tune exposed the evasive aspect of Sinatra’s New York, New York. The rapper’s lyrics erase the utopia assumption around the American life. He doesn’t say we cannot make it. In fact, he testifies of the contrary and poetically warns us of the rude realities therein.
In other words, although “if [I] made it there, [I] can make it anywhere;” - still the States is no paradise.
The streets are lit - all looking pretty. It's all about appearances. Behind the prettiness and the glamour lie sidelines lined up with casualties; gradually becoming worse. It’s a fast life – a 24/7 lifestyle. You need an Ambien pill to rest. The country is filled with good girls who have lost their morals, values, and identities. We, foreigners come here for school, get caught up in the in-crowd, get addicted to the limelight; then end up graduating to the life of the bold and the beautiful or realistically speaking in this Trump era, the life of the deported and the dead.
The U.S. is a jungle (Oh no, she didn't!) Yet it is. Perhaps not a forestial one, but surely a concrete and organized jungle where in fact dreams do see life. However, I believe dreams can come true wherever we desire to create them. If we want to make it in the States, we can. If we want to see our dreams come true in Libreville, we can too. It’s simply an empire state of mind.
You cannot think of an empire and think small.
You cannot talk about an empire and avoid war.
You cannot want an empire and reject taking over.
An empire state of mind is having or longing for a conquest state of mind; such mindset that helps you build the life you dream of regardless of your geographic location or social status.
I’m not sure if that’s what Sinatra meant by It’s up to [me]. He actually said It’s up to you. In any case, he was right. It is really. It’s my responsibility, and I dare to say - my duty to ensure I’m pursuing the things I desire.
If I ever thought that I’d make a brand-new start in America, find myself number one - at the top of the list without any casualties, that illusion was shattered as soon as my plane landed at JFK.
On a side note, I like to mention that I’m uncomfortable with Jay-Z’s views of foreigners in the City. In my opinion, of most states, New York is by far one house that is made by foreigners; should the Natives permit. Though his point has some validity, most foreigners or foreign students like me are overcomers. We may seem dizzy and lost into the American eccentricities at first, but we surely adjust henceforward. At least, I hope.
In all fairness, I believe even natives of the state who have never been in New York City would be easily swayed by the temptations of the city life. Sin is ever present in this country. Sometimes, I feel that even Jesus wouldn't be able to save me. Then, what’s the code of conduct a newcomer to take in the face of such extreme contrast?
And, it’s this code of conduct, the process of adjustment I think most people are curious about. I would first say that being financially prepared for your trip will be a great start. If not, the adventure could have a bitter taste. My experience in this capitalist society has taught me that having a conquest state of mind right from the start is a double-sword weapon against American perplexities.
To my fellow Africans, if you are ready to fight off the almost stifling difficulties and stress ever imagined, then achieving your dream may be possible in America. In this country, your life can gradually become worse, still there’s nothin’ you can’t do. It’s all up to you.
Coming soon, more examples of African life experiences in the blog Life in America: The Life of One or Many
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